Found in: Northeastern Iranian languages
spoken by the Scythian (Sarmatian and Saka) tribes of nomadic pastoralists in Scythia between the 8th century BC and the 5th century AD. Up to the 4th century AD we have only a few words from any of these languages
Encyclopedia Britannica 15th edition - Macropedia on Languages of the World, "The Iranian Languages", substantial evidence of Sogdian and Saka dating from a later period.
The Scythian languages may have formed a dialect continuum:Scytho-Sarmatian languages were spoken by people originally of Iranian stock
Scythian, member of a normadic people originally of Iranian stock who migrated from Central Asia to southern Russia in the 8th and 7th centuries BC - Encyclopedia Britannica 15th edition - Micropaedia on "Scythian"from the 8th and 7th century BC onwards in the area of Ukraine, Southern Russia and Kazakhstan. Modern Ossetic survives as a continuation of the language family possibly represented by Scytho-Sarmatian inscriptions, although the Scytho-Sarmatian language family "does not simply represent the same [Ossetic] language" at an earlier date.
The languages of the Scytho-Sarmatian inscription may represent dialects of a language family of which Modern Ossetic is a continuation, but does not simply represent the same language at an earlier time - Encyclopedia Britannica 15th edition - Macropedia on Languages of the World
Saka language or Scytho-Khotanese in the east: spoken in the Kingdom of Khotan , and including the Khotanese of Khotan and Tumshuqese of Tumshuq. Scholars classify these languages as part of the North-Eastern branch of Iranian languages.
The Scythians migrated from Central Asia toward Eastern Europe, occupying today's Southern Russia and Ukraine and the Carpathian Basin and parts of Moldova and Dobruja. They disappeared from history after the Hunnish invasion of Europe in the 5th century AD, and Turkic and Slavic peoples probably assimilated most people speaking Scythian. However, in the Caucasus, a dialect belonging to the Scythian-Sarmatian linguistic continuum remains in use today, namely Ossetic.
The vast majority of Scythological scholars agree that the Scythian-Sarmatian languages (and Ossetic) belong to the North Eastern branch of the Iranian language family like the once widespread but now extinct Sogdian language. This Iranian hypothesis relies principally on the fact that the Greek inscriptions of the Northern Black Sea Coast contain several hundreds of Sarmatian names showing a close affinity to the Ossetic language.Compare L. Zgusta, Die griechischen Personennamen griechischer Stadte der nordlichen Schwarzmeerkuste [The Greek personal names of the Greek cities of the northern Black Sea coast], 1955.
Historians normally divide the Scytho-Sarmatian group chronologically rather than geographically:
Scythian (ca. 800 - 300 BC), mainly evidenced in Classical Greek authors
Sarmatian (ca. 300 BC - AD 400), mainly evidenced in Hellenistic and Roman inscriptions
Alanic (ca. AD 400 - 1000), mainly evidenced in Byzantine Greek authors
detect a division of Scytho-Sarmatian into two dialects: a western, more conservative dialect, and an eastern, more innovative one. The innovative dialect may correspond to Sarmatian, whereas the conservative dialect may continue the dialect spoken by the old Scythians before the invasion of the Sarmatians.
The Scytho-Khotanese group sub-divides into:
Khotanese, spoken in Khotan
Tumshuqese, spoken in Tumshuq
Sources of the Scythian language
Some scholars ascribe certain inscribed objects found in the Carpathian Basin and in Central Asia to the Scythians, but the interpretation of these inscriptions remains disputed (given that nobody has definitively identified the alphabet or translated the content).
An inscription from Saqqez written in the Hieroglyphic Hittite script may represent Scythian:
Text and translation in J. Harmatta, "Herodotus, historian of the Cimmerians and the Scythians", in: Herodote et les peuples non grecs, Vandoeuvres-Geneve 1990, pp. 115-130.
|Transliteration:||pa-ti-na-sa-na ta-pa wa-s-na-m XL was-was-ki XXX ar-s-ti-m s-kar-kar (HA) har-s-ta LUGAL | par-ti-ta-wa ki-s-a-a KUR-u-pa-ti QU-wa-a | i-pa-s-a-m|
|Transcription:||patinasana tapa. vasnam: 40 vasaka 30 arzatam sikar. UTA harsta XSAYAL. | Partitava xsaya DAHYUupati xva|ipasyam|
|Translation:||"Delivered dish. Value: 40 calves 30 silver siqlu. And it was presented to the king. | King Partitavas, the masters of the land property."|
King Partitava equates to the Scythian king called Prototyes in Herodotus (1.103) and known as Par-ta-tu-a in the Assyrian sources.
The Issyk inscription, found in a Scythian kurgan dating approximately to the 4th century BC, remains undeciphered, but some authorities assume that it represents Scythian.
The primary sources for Scythian words remain the Scythian toponyms, tribal names, and numerous personal names in the ancient Greek texts and in the Greek inscriptions found in the Greek colonies on the Northern Black Sea Coast. These names suggest that the Scythian-Sarmatian language had close similarities to modern Ossetian.
Some scholars believe that many toponyms and hydronyms of the Russian and Ukrainian steppe have Scythian links. For example, Vasmer associates the name of the river Don with an assumed/reconstructed unattested Scythian word *danu "water, river", and with Ossetic don and Avestan danu-.
M. Vasmer, Untersuchungen uber die altesten Wohnsitze der Slaven. Die Iranier in Sudrussland, Leipzig 1923, 74.
The river names Don, Donets, Dnieper, Danube and Dniester may also belong with the same word-group.
P. Kretschmer, "Zum Balkan-Skythischen", Glotta 24 (1935), 1-56, here: 7ff.
Herodotus' Scythian etymologies
The Greek historian Herodotus provides another source of Scythian; he reports that the Scythians called the Amazons Oiorpata, and explains the name as a compound of oior, meaning "man", and pata, meaning "to kill" .
Most scholars associate oior "man" with Avestan vira- "man, hero", Sanskrit vira-, PIE . Various explanations account for pata "kill":
Vasmer, Die Iranier in Sudrussland, 1923, 15.
V.I. Abaev, Osetinskij jazyk i folklor, Moscow / Leningrad 1949, vol. 1, 172, 176, 188.
L. Zgusta, "Skythisch ", Annali dellIstituto Universario Orientale di Napoli 1 (1959) pp. 151-156.
Alternatively, Herodotus has got it all wrong; one scholar suggests Iranian aiwa- "one" + warah- "breast", the Amazons having a single breast according to ancient folk-lore as reflected in Greek folk-etymology: a- (privative) + mazos, "without breast".
Elsewhere Herodotus explains the name of the mythical one-eyed tribe Arimaspoi as a compound of the Scythian words arima, meaning "one", and spu, meaning "eye" .Some scholars connect arima "one" with Ossetic aermaest "only", Avestic airime "quiet", Greek eremos "empty", PIE ?, and spu "eye" with Avestic spas- "foretell", Sanskrit spas-, PIE "see".
J. Marquart, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte von Eran, Gottingen 1905, 90-92;
Vasmer, Die Iranier in Sudrussland, 1923, 12;
H.H. Schaeder, Iranica. I: Das Auge des Konigs, Berlin 1934, 16-19.
However, Iranian usually expresses "one" and "eye" with words like aiwa- and casman- (Ossetic iw and caest).Other scholars reject Herodotus' etymology and derive the ethnonym Arimaspoi from Iranian aspa- "horse" instead.
W. Tomaschek, "Kritik der altesten Nachrichten uber den skythischen Norden", Sitzungsberichte der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 116 (1888), 715-780, here: 761; K. Mullenhoff, Deutsche Altertumskunde, Berlin 1893, vol. 3, 305-306;
R. Grousset, Lempire des steppes, Paris 1941, 37 n. 3;
I. Lebedensky, Les Scythes. La civilisation des steppes (VIIe-IIIe siecles av. J.-C.), Paris 2001, 93.
Or the first part of the name may reflect something like Iranian arjat- "rich", cf. Arjataspa (later Arjasp, a nomad king in Zoroastrian mythology;.
Herodotus' Scythian theonyms
Herodotus also gives a list of Scythian theonyms (Hist. 4.59):Tabiti = Hestia. Perhaps related to Sanskrit Tapati, a heroine in the Mahabharata, literally "the burning (one)".
W. Brandenstein, "Die Abstammungssagen der Skythen", Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes 52 (1953) 183-211, here: 191;
E.A. Grantovskij & D.S. Raevskij, "Ob iranojazycnom i indoarijskom naselenii Severnogo Pricernomorja v anticnuju epochu", in: Etnogenez narodov Balkan i Severnogo Pricernomorja. Lingvistika, istorija, archeologija, Moscow 1984, 47-66, here: 53-55;
G. Dumezil, Romans de Scythie et dalentour, Paris 1978, 125-145; Dumezil offers a different interpretation in La courtisane et les seigneurs colores. Esquisses de mythologie, Paris 1983, 124-125.Papaios = Zeus. Either "father" (Herodotus) or "protector", Avestan, Sanskrit pa- "protect", PIE .
Vasmer, Die Iranier in Sudrussland, 1923, 15;
L. Zgusta, "Zwei skythische Gotternamen", Archiv orientalni 21 (1953), pp. 270-271;
Grantovskij and Raevskij, in: Etnogenez narodov Balkan i Severnogo Pricernomorja, 1984, 54.
L. Zgusta, "Zwei skythische Gotternamen", Archiv orientalni 21 (1953), pp. 270-271.or "water", Avestan, Sanskrit ap-, PIE
Vasmer, Die Iranier in Sudrussland, 1923, 11; Brandenstein, Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes 52 (1953) 190-191;
Grantovskij and Raevskij, in: Etnogenez narodov Balkan i Severnogo Pricernomorja, 1984, 54.
Vasmer, Die Iranier in Sudrussland, 1923, 13;
other interpretations in Dumezil, La courtisane et les seigneurs colores, 1983, 121-122;
Grantovskij and Raevskij, in: Etnogenez narodov Balkan i Severnogo Pricernomorja, 1984, 54-55.
Dumezil, La courtisane et les seigneurs colores, 1983.
Thagimasadas = Poseidon.
The Alanic language as spoken by the Alans from about the 5th to the 11th centuries AD formed a dialect directly descended from the earlier Scytho-Sarmatian languages, and forming in its turn the ancestor of the Ossetic language. Byzantine Greek authors recorded only a few fragments of this language.
Alternate nationalist theories
Divergent views fueled by ethnic nationalism, have proposed affiliation with Turkic, Ugric or Proto-Slavic.
S.V. Rjabcikov, Drevnie texty slavjan i adygov [Ancient texts of the Slavs and the Adyghe], Krasnodar 1998; Skifo-sarmatskie istoki slavjanskoj kultury: Materialy Juznorossijskoj folklorno-etnograficeskoj ekspedicii [Scytho-Sarmatian sources of Slavic culture: Materials of the South-Russian folkloric-ethnographic expedition], Krasnodar 2002; see also the homepage of Rjabcikov on the Slavonic Antiquity.A more moderate proposal by Boris Rybakov suggests a Proto-Slavic substrate. B.A. Rybakov, Gerodotova Skifija. Istoriko-geograficeskij analiz [Herodotian Scythia:a historical-geographic analysis], Moscow 1979.
Harmatta, J.: Studies in the History and Language of the Sarmatians, Szeged 1970.
Mayrhofer, M.: Einiges zu den Skythen, ihrer Sprache, ihrem Nachleben. Vienna 2006.
Zgusta, L.: Die griechischen Personennamen griechischer Stadte der nordlichen Schwarzmeerkuste. Die ethnischen Verhaltnisse, namentlich das Verhaltnis der Skythen und Sarmaten, im Lichte der Namenforschung, Prague 1955.
Scythian language A brief overview of the Scythian and Ossetian languages (in Spanish)
Herodot zur skythischen Sprache About Herodotus' Scythian etymologies (in German)